Berakhia ben Natronai ha-Nakdan, also known as Benedictus le Punctuer or Blessed the Punctuator, was a Jewish scribe who lived in France at the end of the twelfth and beginning of the thirteenth centuries. Drawing from the tales of Marie de Frane and the Latin Romulus collection (both based on the tales of Aesop), as well as from the Persian Kalila and Dimna fables, Berakhiah wrote his own Jewish version. His fables, called Mishlei Shualim (“Fox Fables”), are recounted in biblical Hebrew and draw traditional moral lessons for the reader’s instruction.

We select here two fox fables related to that oh-so-human foible – envy.

The Dog, the Cheese and the Water

What does not supply a need gives no pleasure; the eye is not satisfied with merely looking.

Once a dog seized a piece of cheese in the house and ran with it until he came to a bridge. Looking down into the water, he saw the reflection of the cheese in his own mouth and thought, “If only I had that cheese, too! Two pieces are better than one.”

But when he opened his mouth to seize the second piece, the first fell out and sank to the bottom of the stream. He tumbled in after it, but when he emerged, he had nothing in his mouth but mud and weeds.

So taught the wise Solomon: Be happy with what you have in your hand and your possession, and do not envy what is another’s.

Two Apes and a Lion

When the deceitful are full of envy, each arouses hatred in the other.

Two apes once came before their king, the lion, one who coveted and one who envied. They came before the king, each seeking a gift. Knowing how envious they were of one another, the lion said to them, “I will give you what you ask on one condition: One of you must first whisper his request in my ear, and the other must remain silent. I will grant the first one’s request, and then double it for the second, to reward him for his restraint.”

The first ape said to himself, “I will remain silent, for that way I will gain twice as much as my fellow.” And he stood before the king with sealed lips.

Then the second ape said in his heart, “I am even more clever than he. For I will turn his desire for gain into evil.”

So he leaned toward the lion and whispered in his ear, “Your majesty, honor now your vow. I wish to have one of my eyes put out.”

The lion replied, “So be it according to your will.”

And he pierced the first ape’s eye with his claw, then put out both of the other ape’s eyes.

And so they both received just rewards for their guile.



Retold in The Classic Tales: 4,000 Years of Jewish Lore, Ed. Ellen Frankel, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., 1989.




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